I’ve always found it of interest (and kinda funny) that we Fellow Fans are typically all over the board when it comes to what we like and what we don’t; I know peeps who can talk for hours about the sublime artistry of classic films such as The Golem and The Phantom of the Opera, on into how the advent of sound brought about the stark yet cornerstone horror movies Universal produced in the 1930s…I’m acquainted with others who can tell you everything you never wanted to know about minutiae like what kind of corn syrup was used in which particular Tom Savini effect in films of the early ’80s. We horror folks range everywhere in between these extremes, and often combine many of these eras and sub-genres into our individual manias; some of us can get just as much enjoyment out of say, Camp Blood as we do from The Shining, and would find an evening with the 1920 production of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde equally as cool as a double-bill at the local drive-in with Phantasm and Paranormal Activity.
Recently, I revisited one of my old faves from back in the day, the Argento-produced, Lamberto Bava directed Demons; considered by many to be a classic of the ’80s if not horror films in general, it really got me thinking of the paradoxical way we fans view the films we love.
At a Berlin subway station, young student Cheryl is frightened by a man whose fearsome face appears half-metal (looking kinda like a smaller-scale model of the antagonist from the last reel of The Terminator); as it turns out, the silent individual only appears to want to hand her a pass to a film screening that night at the local art-deco theater, The Metropol. She watches him hand out these passes all amongst the crowd before stopping him again to obtain one for her friend, Hannah; once meeting up, the two of them decide to cut their evening class and attend the special screening. Apparently, ol’ SteelCheek got around; there’s quite the turnout at the Metropol, with a nice crowd of movie-goers flashing their free passes for the special show. Amongst them are George and Ken, a couple of guys that spot Cheryl and Hannah early on, as well as a guy who could only be a pimp with a couple of his girls, taking some time out for entertainment. The film’s gonna have to be pretty darned interesting; the lobby decor consists of what looks like a giant Micronaut on a dirt bike, brandishing a Samurai sword in one hand and holding a devilish-looking metal mask in the other. One of the pimp’s girls plays around with the mask, and gets a small cut on her cheek for her trouble.
“That’s what you get for touching things!” the pimp scolds…but he doesn’t know the half of it…yet. Once the film-within-the-film begins, it turns out to be a strange horror movie where a group of young people are plundering a graveyard, looking for the final resting place of Nostradamus…and when they come across the tomb, what do they find inside? Well I’ll be damned…it’s a metal mask, just like the one in the lobby! And guess what? The guy in the movie cuts his face when he puts it on, transforming into some kind of demon monster minutes later…and of course, it’s only a short time after this that the cut on the hooker’s face blows all to hell in a eruption of green demon-pus, and she becomes a bug-eyed, oozing demon herself, quickly claiming her friend as her first victim. This curse/virus/affliction moves from attacker to prey, transforming all who are touched by the demons into demons themselves (sound kinda familiar?). Somehow, the remaining human occupants find themselves trapped inside with a self-replicating group of flesh-hungry demons, and the questions of what is happening and who will survive take a close second place to the very gory, somewhat wacky action…
Co-written by Argento and prolific horror screenwriter Dardano Saccheti, Demons obviously takes a lot of cues from the popular zombie films of the late ’70s and early ’80s, as well as a self-aware, tongue-in-cheek attitude reminiscent of Evil Dead. With a pretty simple (yet effective) set up, minimal character development, and no explanation whatsoever as to what the hell is going on, the flick is a fun, bloody romp for horror fans, with effects that were as goopy and gory as you could want back in the mid-eighties; lingering close-ups of bloody flesh-ripping, drippy fluids and self-extracting teeth. Though kind of sluggish during the beginning, once the film starts going it’s balls-out action that will certainly not leave you bored; things like motorcycle-mounted sword combat through a movie theater, a bangin’, 1980s heavy metal soundtrack, and a subplot featuring a quartet of local punks (the leader of whom looks like you made a cocktail of Sylvester Stallone’s and Matt LeBlanc’s DNA) snorting coke (and by that I mean cocaine) out of an honest-to-Christ Coca-Cola can…these are the kind of things that horror flicks just don’t deliver anymore…
…and on that note, let’s think about that a moment. Not only is the plot juvenile and in some cases so contrived it’ll make you laugh (all I’m gonna say is “helicopter”; watch the flick, and you’ll get it), but the acting ranges from just about average to downright lousy, with atrocious dubbing (even though it’s an English language film!), and some built-up elements just seem to fade away to nothing, like the filmmakers just forgot about them (what is going on with the redheaded theater employee?). Why, by today’s standards, a flick like this would get the shit kicked out of it by any critic worth their salt…I can just hear it now: “A petty, lowbrow attempt at a horror film, clearly aping the success of zombie films without the zombies; bush-league at best.” Whether or not making the film this way was intentional by the filmmakers would be irrelevant to many, and for those that like to take their horror very seriously, perhaps rightly so.
Truth is, both the perspective that it’s a fun little flick and that it’s an assault on the senses of a hardcore fan can be correct, depending on your point of view. I’ve talked to a lot of people that find Demons to be a disappointing, hackneyed, and cartoony rip-off of those popular zombie films I’ve mentioned. On the other hand, there’s a whole lotta people that look at this flick as a true classic; indeed, many consider it one of the torch-bearers of what ’80s horror was in all its gory, schlocky glory. There’s nothing wrong with either stance, or any combination of the two; that’s what makes it fun.
I myself love the film; of course I recognize it’s shortcomings, but I also see its strengths. If you want to be intellectually stimulated or genuinely frightened by a movie, I’ll come right out and say that this one’s not gonna do it for you…but if you just want a fun, entertaining blood and gore flick that you can have a good time with, this one should definitely be on your short list.
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